A Positively Final Response


The same bad arguments for divestment continue to be made– now, in addition to the finger-wagging Little Green Bloggers, also by the editorial writers at the Daily Dartmouth. Boy, those guys at America’s Oldest [sic] College Newspaper sure aren’t afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom. (…Or are they?!?) But, wait, as C. Bateman reminds me and my trusty steed:

Get off your intellectual high-horse, which is more or less paralyzed when it comes to doing anything productive to end this genocide, and join the movement that’s actually getting things done….

Maybe in another two or three years, when all the rape and murder is complete, he’ll have finished expounding his subtle position on the subject.

Correction: my intellectual high-horse is well-bred and physically fit. Its coat has a magnificent sheen. But it’s a worthy standard– who’s getting things done? I’ve said many times that I want to see the U.S. and other nations use their military to scare Khartoum. Would you divestors support, say, a tactical military strike on government buildings in that city? Or would you prefer this strategy:

Dartmouth’s divestment, moreover, could have a ripple effect upon the financial decisions made by similar institutions. A wave of divestment would put pressure on the Sudanese government to take action to end the genocide and would deprive the Janjaweed rebels of much-needed funds.

That’s the D. Put aside that the Janjaweed aren’t rebels but paid and armed by Islamist tyrants– clearly these people feel qualified to lecture the campus after having read Wikipedia or some one-page handout. But how’s that for foot-dragging subtlety? While the divestors are cleverly sparking a wave across college campuses in America, hoping that it will upset certain companies to pull out of Sudan, and that that will make Janjaweed irregulars stop raping, killing and stealing– do any serious thinkers actually believe that this four-to-five step illogical process is tenable?– the group could be focusing on effecting the passage of legislation, and not just a condemnatory resolution in the New Hampshire legislature. There is no precedent for using civil disobedience to stop genocide. Mass slaughter is carried out about people who do not care about human life. Civil disobedience relies upon your opponents’ guilt and at least partial regard for human dignity. That paper again:

The Darfur Action Group deserves commendation for its prominent role in injecting this issue into campus discourse. But now the student body must familiarize itself with this issue and press for proper action to end the conflict.

Campus discourse is fairly receptive, I’ve found– not exactly your most accurate barometer of cosmic greatness. When will the Verbum people laud the Greek Houses’ contributions to The Discourse? They “inject” themselves into campus happenings to a great extent. But then that second sentence. Ending genocide is not like providing dozens of free bikes, baking brownies, or taking back the night. It’s not a matter of spreading awareness, hanging posters, or blitzing out– it’s a matter of being aware and sure and urging free, moral government to intervene. All else is self-promotion.

Then, Niral Shah:

He fails to acknowledge that this isn’t a collective action problem, that in fact, each individual instance of divestment helps the groups out there already trying to divest. (That’s why this is nothing like voting. In fact, his logic carried over to voting would suggest that’s a futile act too, because not everybody will do it).

Huh? Maybe he’s talking about this:

You could argue that your divestment will inspire others. People make this argument about voting…. To be effective, it must be a group effort.

The ‘you’ in that statement, Niral, is quite literally you– divestment suppporters. I was making your argument for you because I suspected you would compare this to voting, as you did a few days later on your blog, above. So I drew a distinction: simultaneity, which not addressed. Because companies’ calculus would happen in succession, nothing happens until a critical mass is achieved, unlike on election day. I still dispute the mantra you repeat: that every little bit helps. Your only evidence is a single company that withdrew. As I stated here, though:

Divestment also presumes that corporations care entirely about money (a pretty cogent assumption). But. If they’re supposed to pull out of Sudan because they’re concerned about money, which would concern them more: 1) their stock suffering from Dartmouth or other parties hurting it 2) losing very lucrative oil contracts with Khartoum?

And if that company withdrew, clearly it was just not making a lot of money with its Khartoum contracts, and a small amount of money lost in America or elsewhere outweighed that. But the companies that really make a difference in facillitating slaughter, and have huge contracts, will not be affected economically. Divestment has an inherent flaw because most of its steps rely on people making economic decisions not moral ones. He also ignores the obvious differences between apartheid and genocide, which I’ve outlined. And yet!

Yes, he fails to address any of the points I made on the merits of divestment, and why it has been effective, and will be again in this instance.

How sly! The two logical arguments I make against the effectiveness of divestment are not match for DAG’s vacuous righteousness! Yeah, but, he reminds me:

Maybe you should actually attempt activism, see how you feel about it, instead of condemning it from an uninformed outside perspective.

Well– and this goes out to all malcontents– why don’t you try writing for The Dartmouth Review, see how you feel about it, instead of condemning it from an uninformed outside perspective? “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it”: pretty flimsy. But it reveals something, which is that the worth of activism, apparently, derives from how you feel about it. It matters not how I feel about an action– it still either helps people or it does not. If, one, helping people is moral, and two, an action does not help anyone, then it follows that in order for that action to be moral, it must derive its morality from elsewhere. Is it the emotion? I should hope not. I’m assuming a DAG person would lecture me of its symbolic morality– ‘taking a stand,’ or something, which, when deprived of its solvency, is just another way to say ‘Look at me!’

Ron Green, the committee chair and director of the Dartmouth College Ethics Institute, has a pretty blunt way of putting the solvency issue:

Whatever Dartmouth does is not going to end the genocide. This is a complex situation, it’s not as though we have a switch that we can turn on and off with regard to that. I think it’s probably wrong to become panicked about this.

Well, you should be troubled by the catastrophe and the reminder of evil. But, there is no switch, as he says, and to suggest flippantly that selling some sto
cks and wearing some armbands can make a difference is kind of insulting to those having their lives destroyed. I can see some DAGers jetting into west Sudan, saying, “Hey, there! It’s OK, we divested Dartmouth from Siemens!” “Great, thanks! My village just got razed, my sister raped, my father killed, and the year’s crop harvest burned… but thanks! I needed that. You guys are heroes. Say, how’s that strike on Khartoum coming? Got anything but some UN guys taking pictures of me lying in a ditch?” Man, that’s awkward.

And finally, I’m called downright rude for responding:

I’m kind of sick of this. You criticize what we’re doing, and I respond. And in typical review fashion, you find some other new point to refute. This goes beyond cyncism. You, like much of your paper, is critical and anagonistic for its own sake.

I guess I’ll just have to respond with an excerpt from a speech I admire:

College years – and, ultimately, full lives – are about testing our convictions, exploring our doubts, and engaging in debate and dialogue; these years are about challenges to certainty. Often the most fundamental dialogue is, or at least should be, with oneself. But such introspection can only follow exposure to ideas different from the ones you have brought with you. Now the opportunities for such exposure surround you. An academic community – indeed a free society – rests on the freedom to think and to speak out. The free expression of ideas is a bedrock principle, even though not all that is thought or said is equally valid or true. The corollary of the freedom of speech is the freedom to criticize that which is said. And sometimes this freedom to disagree becomes an obligation. If politeness and civility and mutual respect form the basis of our community, so too do engagement and debate and, assuredly, disagreement. Academic communities at their best are places that challenge more than they reinforce.

James Wright gets it profoundly right. No viewpoint should get off scot-free, particularly on a college campus– and even (or especially?) if the cause is tricked-out in the trappings of nobility. In the case of the Darfur “Action” Group, I consider my response obligatory. So, no, I won’t “shut the hell up.”